Waste Land, a remarkable film by Lucy Walker, is engrossing, disturbing, inspiring and hopeful, all at the same time. It tells the story of Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’s lengthy project of making portraits of catadores, garbage pickers at the Jardim Gramacho landfill in Rio de Janeiro.
Eric Sparre, Director of Artspan, the site which combines branded sites with an online gallery, argues that for visual artists, the internet is taking up where commercial galleries leave off. However, the two can work together
Once upon a time, establishing a career seemed a simple matter for visual artists. First: secure gallery representation. Then: back to the studio. Let the gallery worry about sales, which were sure to come and at steadily increasing prices.
Of course, the process was never that simple. Then, as now, dealers were often reluctant to take on new artists. But with no serious alternative, most working artists had no choice other than to keep knocking on the same doors. And even with representation, there was no guarantee of success: galleries could control client lists, veto outside opportunities, hold payments on sales, and dictate the extent of publicity. For artists without representation, particularly older artists, prospects were even bleaker.
The advent of the Internet has brought empowerment. Alongside social media, artists now use the web in two main ways: by creating personal, branded websites to promote their work as they please, and by using online galleries to show work for sale, joining other artists and/or makers (Saatchiart and Etsy are prominent examples of online galleries).
Tim Burton’s latest film Big Eyes tells a fairly simple story, but it asks a million questions. The heroine is Margaret Keane, the woman responsible for the big-eyed waif paintings that became fantastically successful in the 1960s. Success comes to her, as it does to many, through a series of happy accidents. An art show in the bathroom hallway of a nightclub attracts the attention of a drunken woman; Keane’s husband has a fight with the nightclub owner, which becomes the subject of gossip columnists. One thing leads to another, and at first just the right amount of right people like her art. Through another (willful) misunderstanding, Keane’s husband starts to take credit for her work.
The money pours in, more and more people like the art, and now almost too many people, and all the wrong people for the art to be taken seriously any more. And still she paints, and her husband takes credit for her work. He’s charming and personable and understands money; he becomes very nearly a celebrity while Margaret remains in the shadows, painting all day. Movie stars and presidents commission portraits in the Keane style and Andy Warhol proclaims, “I think what Keane has done is just terrific. It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.”
Séraphine tells the true story of Séraphine Louis, a maid who has a secret passion for painting. She’s “discovered” by Wilhelm Uhde, a noted art critic who happens to be renting space in the house where Séraphine is employed. That’s the story of the film, but the film is truly about Séraphine herself; about her slow, quiet movements, about her passions and fears and loneliness. The film itself is slow and quiet, following Séraphine as she collects the materials to make paint, which is a mysterious and beautiful ritual.
Séraphine is happiest outdoors, and her almost religious love of nature translates into her paintings, which are wild and vibrant and beautiful. Séraphine doesn’t paint for wealth or fame, she paints for the glory of god, and because she has to paint. She has a lush, vivid world inside of her head, and it spills out onto the canvas with a sort of ecstasy. She paints with her hands, with the power of her whole body, and the fervor of her fevered soul.
An image of a human being is never as simple as it seems. A painting or photograph of a person raises a million questions, sometimes overt, often hidden, frequently without logical answer. Every portrait creates many pictures; of the subject, of the artist, and of each individual who views it. The most intimate portrait of a loved one becomes distanced and anonymous once it is “art,” once it is shared. If the subject is nude, whether in an old master’s oil painting or crowded onto a page of internet porn, a whole array of terms spring to mind: objectification, voyeurism, exhibitionism. We think about possession, desire, changing ideals of beauty and health. We think about the unknowable thoughts moving through the head of this anonymous figure frozen, static, in a moment in time. In the history of art, of course, it was men painting women, and owning paintings of women, and women submitting passively to their gaze. But all of this is changing as artists start to question what it means to look and to be looked at, what it means to capture beauty and desire.
Four Artspan artists question what it means to portray the human body and face.
Sharon VanStarkenburg‘s images are beautiful and challenging, and she says, “As of late I am becoming increasingly overt in the feminist messaging in my paintings. I am compelled to produce work that resides in the push and pull area between empowerment and subjugation; slipping, falling, kicking, hitting and flailing into each side.
Artspan sits down with Brooklyn-based printmaker Linda Adato.
I love the lines and angles of your work, which are distinctive of urban art, but I love the sort of warm glow that suffuses it as well, that gives it life. The light and shadows are so evocative of a time of day or a time of year that your images almost feel like a memory of an actual time and place. To me your images are somewhat wistful and mysterious, suggesting a million stories glimpsed through windows and around corners. What mood do you hope to evoke with your work? How do you capture the color and slant of light at various times of day. Do you work from memory or photographs or sketches?
I often start an image from a photograph that I have taken, but also work directly from sketches from my immediate surroundings. I begin, of course, with the composition and ideas come to mind in the development of the image. The light and colors are no less important and involve much trial and error to achieve the right relationships between that and the geometry of the composition. I don’t intend any mood you speak of, which may nevertheless result from the aesthetics I try to achieve.